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Instant Library

Booksfree1 With only a very small fraction of any classroom or school’s library actually used at any particular time, it seems like the perfect space to squeeze more room for instructional use. Don’t get me wrong, I love libraries and use several local institutions to their fullest. But, for some schools there’s an innovative alternative that brings the books to the readers.

BooksFree is a service that ships books on demand to where they’re needed, when they’re needed and for as long as they’re needed. It’s something like the NetFlix DVD service, and all you do is select what you want on the company’s Web site. BooksFree generally ships it out the same day.

Make no mistake, these are real paperback books and professionally recorded books on disc, not downloaded eBooks. With 170,000 volumes and books on disc available, it’s much larger and more thorough than all but the biggest school libraries.

On the downside, the selection tends more towards thrillers than young adult fiction or historical novels. Still, the catalog includes such classroom classics like Harper Lee’s “To Kill and Mockingbird,” George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” and Dava Sobel’s “Longitude.”

BooksFree search engine is the equivalent of a library’s card catalog. It can find a book based on author, title or ISBN number, and the advanced search section has a variety of categories of fiction and nonfiction works for the closest thing to online browsing. The missing element is that you can’t physically peruse the stacks looking for a book and enjoy the instant intellectual gratification of sitting down and leafing through a book.

Booksfree 2 In a test of several books and stories on disc, it took two or three days for the items to arrive. The book can be used until the teacher or student is finished without any overdue fines or late fees. BooksFree pays postage both ways and includes an envelope for return.

Despite its name, the service isn’t free. The service costs $13 a month for paperback books or CDs, but at the moment, the service does not have a volume discount for schools. Overall, it’s not all that expensive, particularly for a book that the teacher would read to a class or a recorded work that would be played to the class over several days or weeks.

$13 per month

         + Excellent way to have only the books you need on hand 
         + 170,000 volumes and recorded books available
         + Postage paid
         + Good search engine

         - Takes two or three days to arrive
         - No volume discount for schools


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